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Images of Kabir

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Item Code: NAM737
Publisher: Manohar Publishers And Distributors
Author: Monika Horstmann
Language: English
Edition: 2002
ISBN: 9788173044632
Pages: 255
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 10.0 inch x 6.5 inch
Weight 550 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

Kabir is a vital presence in India. Of late, scholarship has especially addressed the question of his impact on society at large and its various cultural components. How do people express their own conditions and feelings through recourse to Kabir? How do contemporary thinkers relate to him? How does he challenge contemporary writers? Does he still scandalize us or has his work become a purely academic or aesthetic issue? In tackling such questions, the distinction between the seemingly objective position of scholars and the subjective position of creative writers and social activists are often blurred, as is shown by several contributions in this volume. Alongside these are papers of textual scholarship engaging in the history of the transmission of Kabir 's work.

The volume unites articles of scholars, critics, and creative writers. It represents the proceedings of an international symposium entitled 'The Six-Hundredth Anniversary of Kabir ', held at Heidelberg in 1999.

About the Author

Monika Horstmann (Monika Boehm- Tettelbach) is Professor of Modern South Asian Studies at the South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg. She has specialized in North Indian bhakti religion in its historical dimensions. Her books include an edited volume, Bhakti in Current Research, 1979-1982 (1983); Crossing the Ocean of Existence: Braj Bhasa Religious Poetry from Rajasthan (1983); Dadu: Lieder (1991), and In Favour of Govinddevji: Historical documents relating to a deity of Vrindaban and Eastern Rajasthan (1999).

Editor's Preface

An international symposium commemorating the six-hundredth anniversary of Kabir was held in Heidelberg in 1999. This symposium was an opportunity to bring together recent research on one of north India's greatest devotional poets. There was no intention to re-open the debate on Kabir's date. The idea of a symposium was first suggested by Kedarnath Singh. Almost all the papers presented on the occasion are included in this volume, with the exception of contributions read by Purushottam Agrawal (whose paper appeared in the meantime in Hindi, 1, 2000), Mridula Ghosh and Linda Hess. Namwar Singh's paper was previously published in Indian Literature. The Sahitya Akademi's kind permission to reprint it here is gratefully acknowledged.

Ulrike Stark cooperated both in the organisation of the symposium and in the preparation of this volume, with spirit and efficiency. Claudia Ramsbrock helped patiently with the typing of the manuscript. The symposium was generously funded by the Deutsche Forschungs- gemeinschaft, the Stiftung der Universitat Heidelberg, and the Deutsche Bank. The editor gratefully acknowledges their generous aid. The gathering was hosted by the Internationals Wissenschafts forum of the University of Heidelberg. The hospitality of this institution as especially represented by its Executive Secretary, Theresa Reiter, is gratefully remembered.

The editor has refrained from trying to make the various modes of transcription used by the authors unassailably uniform. For pre-modern names, diacritic marks have been given; for modern names, this has been left to the discretion of the authors. Names and other words current in English generally appear in their English spelling. Urdu and Persian words have been transcribed according to the system used by John T. Platts (A Dictionary of Urdu, Classical Hindi, and English, 5th impression, repr., London 1974).


Kabir is a vital presence in India. A good part of scholarly writing within and without India has sought to explore who he was and how text-critical methods might be helpful in establishing a core of sayings that, with some degree of probability, could be attributed to him individually. This type of research came almost to a conclusion by the year 1974 when Charlotte Vaudeville wrote her seminal stud)' on KabIr.1 In 1993, this was made definitively clear by her last book on Kabir, in which she conclusively brought together the relevant evidence so far available? This study identified the limits of the historical study of Kabir as a person and establishing anyone authentic text of Kabir's sayings. Within those limits, however, it had been possible to put Kabir studies on firmer ground and to produce texts as well as translations without which any progress in studying him would have been inconceivable. Meanwhile, an earlier streak of interest in Kabir had somewhat receded into the background and now receives renewed interest. It addresses the question of the life of Kabir in society at large and within its various cultural components. This is the kind of interest first represented in a major way by Ksitimohan Sen, who since 1908 had collected songs of devotional singers as they were part of the living tradition of Bengal.3 The questions underlying this and related interest are, with respect to Kabir: How do people from one or another section of society express their own conditions and feelings through recourse to Kabir? How do contemporary thinkers relate to him? How does he challenge contemporary writers? How do we react on someone who takes him at his word? Does Kabir still scandalise us or have we developed a mechanism of tucking him safely away as an academic or purely aesthetic issue, or, do we misuse him as a handy political tool and thus dwarf his literary, aesthetic and religious stature?

Renewed identification with this quest led to a notable blurring of professional boundaries. The distinction between the seemingly objective outside position of the scholar and the subjective position of creative writers and social activists can no longer taken for granted. This is especially the case with writers who have been actors in, and witnesses of, recent developments in India in which the communal debate or the unrelieved plight of the Dalits was felt to run against the spirit of Kabir, This recent development, however, only highlighted t at the alleged distinction between an outside and inside approach to this engaging author is hardly tenable. A good number of contributions to this volume, on personalities or groups who appropriated Kabir in creating their own worldviews, or by scholars who engage in a social activism, stand testimony to this. Shukdeo Singh, renowned for his textual studies on Kabir and Raidas, focuses on the struggle of the Sants for self-assertion in the face of brahmanical dominance.

How did the past and how does the present take the challenge of Kabir's teachings and his poetical genius? This issue touches upon intercultural perception as much as on that prevalent within India. It seemed therefore appropriate to review, first of all, how Kabir figured in earlier scholarship and how this informed our image of him. Pradeep Bandyopadhyay, in a topical paper from the perspective of the history of science and ideas, puts forth how westerners of the colonial period imposed their own concepts on Kabir. This resulted in an anachronistic image of him, or in one insulated from the social context in which he lived. This problem, unsurprisingly, looms large for a figure so potently urging one to review one's own quest. Bandyopadhyay points out what ideologies account for the image of Kabir as an enlightened religious reformer. With missionary thinking and an evolutionist optimism that mankind would eventually embrace Christianity play a prominent role, Kabir was considered a kindred spirit. A view of him as a social reformer of nationalistic preoccupation was only a step away.

The privilege of discovering Kabir as an object of study was that of Angelo de Gubernatis in 1878. He presented to the public his findings about the Capuchian friar Marco Della Tomba, who had discovered Kabir for Europe in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Charlotte Vaudeville reminded us of this again in her book of 1974, and it is partly in response to her that David N. Lorenzen unfolds his pioneer research on Marco Della Tomba's writings. Amongst these are not only translations of the Kabir-panthi Mulpanji and Jnansagar, but also a description of the Kabir-panthis of his time and their religious system as contained in the Jnansagar. Against this, Lorenzen also refutes Vaudeville's contention that what he calls a Ramayana version is a Kabir-panthi text whereas it is, in fact, the earliest known western translation of Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas.

As for attempts to constitute a Kabir text that might claim auctorial authenticity, the past few decades have been dominated by two major research projects. One was Parasnath Tivari's attempt (1961) to establish a representative text, under the title Kabir-gramthavali; the other was Winand M. Callewaert's project of filming Sant manuscripts, which led to the discovery and recovery of some of the most ancient compilations containing Kabir's works, and his longstanding endeavour to approach anything that may distantly, if at all resemble a critical edition.' Both projects have after perseverance and intense labour churned up the insight that despite the wealth in Kabir texts there is no way of establishing an authentic auctorial Kabir text. Kabir's words have remained a living and productive tradition that split early in different recensions and, both alongside and intertwined with these, oral ramifications. A written text of Kabir, based on the manuscript tradition, therefore represents a historical step in the midst of ever-fertile traditions. In this volume, Winand M. Callewaert thus confines himself to constitute a textual corpus of the written traditions as they existed around 1556, all the while being aware of the fact that that text status does not correspond to anyone living regional tradition.

In an attempt to identify the linguistic status of the Kabir text shared by the early tradition, Stuart McGregor seeks to isolate the various linguistic strata in the sixteen sakhis that all of them have in common. In this ancient textual segment he finds a broad basis of Khari boli with a probably popularly-used mixture of Braj Bhasa and A vadhi, the last- mentioned language buttressed by a well-developed literary tradition in its own right in the area of Kabir's origin.

Kabir and the literati

Kabir continues to fertilise creative writing and cultural vision. We offer four examples of these. One is a critical reflection by Namwar Singh, another a piece of creative writing by Kiran Nagarkar; the third, by Kedamath Singh, is a review of poetry thematic of Kabir; and the last one, by Monika Horstmann, is a study of a cultural vision in which Kabir figures as an exemplar.

Namwar Singh raises the issue of how Kabir's and other low-caste authors' precarious social circumstances related to what they experienced as transcending the world. Singh perceives in Kabir a sorrow of inevitable loneliness, the loneliness of one who feels at once the reality of the Divine and the separation from the Divine. He relates Kabir's painful day-to-day experiences to this fundamental sorrow, but he circumspectly does not allow the world and the beyond, after which Kabir strived, to be added up against each other in that account of sorrow.

Kiran Nagarkar transports Kabir in his radicalism into our own present. Has, to us, Kabir become 'like Gandhi', he asks, 'dead and gone and forgotten except when you needed a handy cliché or platitude to talk about the oneness of all faith'? His provocative text compels his readers to question how they meet Kabir's challenge.

Kedarnath Singh, in whose own oeuvre stands out a long poem addressing Kabir's fate in modem India and what in the present time the quest for salvation may mean," reviews the reception of Kabir in contemporary Hindi literature as it started half a century after the rediscovery of Kabir for modem readers by Ksitimohan Sen and Rabindranath Tagore.

Horstmann reconsiders Hazariprasad Dvivedi's portrait of Kabir and argues that his image of him was determined by Dvivedi's own attempt to conceptualise the image of man that would be able to stand the test of contemporary challenges. It is in line with such humanist concerns that he constructed Kabir's biography.

Kabir in cultural context

The first to draw the attention of twentieth-century scholarship to the tradition of Kabir in its living cultural context was Ksitimohan Sen. Kabir and, for that matter, the Sant tradition in general, need to be seen in the context of the Nath and Muslim traditions. The first to clearly elucidate Kabir's relationship with the Nath tradition were Pitambardatt Barthval and Hazariprasad Dvivedi. Mariola Offredi in her paper reviews the various scholarly positions concerning Kabir's links with the Naths and then probes the esoteric doctrines of certain Nath texts, variously edited and studied earlier or, more recently, by herself. Although the manuscript tradition of Nath texts postdates Kabir, it must be ascribed to a period anterior to him and is therefore usable as a historical antecedent of the Kabir tradition. Offredi's analysis brings home to her readers Kabir's great indebtedness to the Nath doctrine.

Daniel Gold, too, studies the Kabir tradition in the Nath milieu, which in his case is that of the householder Naths of southeastern Rajasthan. The communal religious practice of these Naths unfolds in their bhajan gatherings. Their Kabir songs are, however, liable to a sexual interpretation which relates them to the tantrik tradition. The ascetic Naths of the same milieu notably abstain from the bhajan gatherings of their householder brethren. The Kabir tradition thus forms a trajectory to the wider tantrik tradition such as that of the Bisnamis. Gold shows the ways in which texts are negotiated among various groups, negotiations that the text as written word would in no way disclose outside its specific living setting.

Kabir's reception in the Muslim milieu has so far received fairly little attention, apart from the fact that his Muslim credentials were acknowledged. Peter Gaeffke sketches the image of him in Muslim writing from the it 'in-i Akbari to Urdu writing in 1947. Sadiqur Rahman Kidwai shows how Kabir inspired Urdu poets. Thomas Dahnhardt studies Kabir again in a specific socio-religious setting. The legacy of him helped link Muslim and Hindu traditions. Dahnhardt focuses on an instant of this, namely, the recruitment of Hindus in the Sufi tradition of the Naqshbandiyya Mujaddidiyya since Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (1564-1624), which culminated in the late nineteenth century in the initiation of the Kayasth Ramcandra Saksena who became a Mujaddidiyya master. The unifying spirit behind this event was the Kabir tradition in the hands of the Dharamdasi branch of the Kabir-panthis.

Bahadur Singh's study of a local Kabir tradition squares with the findings on the textual divergence within the written tradition on the one hand and their differing from the many internally varying living Kabir traditions on the other. It is not the wording but rather the spirit that they share and that safeguards their existence. This can only happen because Kabir fulfills a purpose for specific groups, as this is the case for the Dalits whose relationship with the Kabir tradition is the topic of both Nancy M. Martin and Maren Bellwinkel- Schempp. Martin sees the Meghvals of Rajasthan, who sing the songs of Kabir, empowered by his message. Martin, whose approach is also informed by the Liberation Theology, finds that theirs is an empowerment to dignity, not to rebellion against their Dalit status. Bellwinkel-Schernpp focuses on the Kabir- panthis of Kanpur and traces their contribution to the Dalit discourse since the early twentieth century. A well-defined Kabir-panthi identity, dissociated from the Devi worship thus far common with the Kabir- panthis, was formulated in the beginning of the century. Later it was overshadowed by other forms of Dalit self-assertion, as initiated by Ambedkar, the strong local movement of Svami Achutanand and the foregrounding of Raidas.

The findings presented in this volume resist the construction of any one Kabir they present particular Kabirs according to their cultural contexts. These Kabirs are refractions of a persona both persistently and powerfully present and evasive.


Editor's Preface vii
Kabir's pads in 1556 45
Kabir's Language: Notes on Data from Selected Text73
The Sorrows of Kabir 85
The Arsonist: The Last Days of Kabir 93
Kabir and Contemporary Hindi Poetry 109
Hazariprasad Dvivedi's Kabir 115
Kabir and the Nathpanth 127
Kabir's Secrets for Householders: Truths and Rumours among Rajasthani Naths143
Kabir in Literature by and for Muslims 157
Kabir and Mystic Poetry in Urdu 165
A Contemporary Legacy of Kabir: A Hindu Sufi Branch and its Relations with the Kabir-Panth177
Problems of Authenticity in the Kabir Texts Transmitted Orally in Rajasthan Today191
Homespun Threads of Dignity and Protest: Songs of Kabir in Rural Rajasthan 199
Kabir-Panthls in Kanpur: From sampradaya to Dalit Identity215
The Sants and the Struggle against Brahmin Dominance233
Contributors 241
Index 243

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